Court in Ballymena hears there are at least 56 'victims' of Larne painter accused of 'aggressive commercial practice'

Court in Ballymena hears there are at least 56 'victims' of Larne painter accused of 'aggressive commercial practice'

A PROSECUTOR told Ballymena Magistrates Court there are at least 56 alleged victims of a Larne painter who is facing charges including 'engaging in aggressive commercial practice'; 'engaging in misleading commercial practice' and fraud by false representation.

The charges faced by Stephen Stewart (48), with addresses listed on court papers as Blackthorn Rise and Bank Road, relate to dates from 2019 to July this year - including July 12.

The charges show some of the areas where incidents allegedly happened included Cedar Hill, Newtownabbey; Cloughwater Road, Ballymena; Farm Lodge Green, Greenisland; Clare Heights, Ballyclare and Copperwood Road and Avenue in Carrickfergus.

One of the charges is that Stewart engaged in a 'commercial practice which was aggressive in contravention of Regulation 7(1) of the Consumer Protection From Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 in that you placed undue influence on' a man 'by ignoring Covid restrictions and entering his personal space causing him distress so as to significantly impair or be likely to significantly impair the average consumer's freedom of choice or conduct in relation to the product concerned through the use of harassment, coercion or undue influence, and in so doing you caused or were likely to cause the average consumer to take a transactional decision he would not have otherwise taken'.

The defendant has been on remand in custody for a number of months and when he appeared at the court via a video link from prison on Thursday he made a bail application.

Objecting to bail, a police officer said the defendant is alleged to have approached residents in County Antrim and north Down about doing work on their properties and securing money in the form of cash payments but then allegedly either failed to complete the work or didn't do it to a proper standard.

The officer said Stewart's "method of securing work can be quite high pressured to a vulnerable person".

The court heard the defendant told police he would "cold call" at properties seeking work. Reports from Trading Standards officials are still awaited.

The court heard Stewart had 93 previous convictions.

The court was told Trading Standards had previous contact with Stewart in 2016.

The police officer alleged Stewart "appears to target vulnerable victims, specifically elderly residents".

A defence solicitor said Stewart is a self-employed painter/decorator/handyman and his leaflet drops are "consumer legislation compliant" and give his business address, phone number and include a 14-day cooling off period.

He said it was accepted deposits were taken.

The lawyer said some of the work involves sub-contractors and includes interior and exterior painting, cleaning PVC and driveway washing.

The solicitor said the work is often "weather dependent " and sometimes scheduled jobs are not completed quickly.

He said there had been difficulties "with the pandemic" and getting supplies.

The lawyer said Stewart had "more than a workable defence to each and every one" of the allegations.

The lawyer said some complainants had "no issues with quality of the work" but on occasions were concerned that when their work was not happening they could see Stewart's team at other nearby homes.

The solicitor added: "This doesn't fit the profile of somebody who is simply cold calling, collecting deposits, and then disappearing".

The lawyer said one person had tried to get through to Stewart but BT had "disconnected his phone" and thinking she had been "scammed" had taken to social media.

District Judge Nigel Broderick said the defence were concerned about a "delay" in the case but he said it was a "complex, wide ranging" investigation with "56 alleged victims" and the defendant was interviewed 12 times.

He said that whilst denying the offences there appeared to be evidence connecting him to the charges.

The judge said Stewart had 93 previous convictions including "some quite relevant" involving obtaining services by deception; theft and fraud by false representation.

The judge said there was a "risk of further offences" and refused bail.

The case was adjourned to December 23.

  • Main picture: Stephen Stewart.